Building perfection, one question block at a time…
Legacy is a word that is seldom used nowadays; the word has never constructed itself into an oversaturated, pretentious connotation and the vast, vigorous world of gaming haven’t the shortage of premium, quality titles that embody the potential and sheer definition of a legacy. Legacy is a matter of quality and time. Very few series have the pristine ability to kickstart a brave new medium of entertainment, one that is not only presently relevant but also healthier than it has ever been, breathing new, imaginative life into this expansive world. The Super Mario series not only crafted the world of gaming that we know and love today, but it pioneered a beloved genre to perfection and also introduced iconic characters that’ve become synonymous with the entire gaming medium as a whole, with Mario himself becoming the public face of the Big N, which at one point was a renowned playing card and toy company. Thirty years later and Mario has undoubtedly seen his fair share of sequels, successors, spin-offs, and inspirations, arguably taking massive responsibility for the popularity and success of the 2D and 3D realm of gaming. With countless masterpieces under his belt such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario Bros 1 & 3, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario World to name a few, Mario has unquestionably become an icon and staple in the gaming community due his unparalleled relevance and punctual ability to deliver a quality gaming experience. For Mario’s thirtieth anniversary, Nintendo have cooked up something special that marks an innovative step towards the series’ evolution; Super Mario Maker gives fans the necessary tools to create a minute, yet idiosyncratic piece of Mario’s very own legacy. Super Mario Maker is essentially two games in one beautiful package: an exquisitely precise 2D platformer that accentuates that iconic responsiveness that is synonymous with the Super Mario series, and a brilliantly intuitive design tool that incomparably outshines all of its respective ilk in nearly every way imaginable. Super Mario Maker somehow managed to find a superlative equilibrium so that fans and newcomers alike can enjoy the experience to its fullest. Fans will undoubtedly bask in all of its nostalgic glory while newcomers, like myself, can perceive the structural template of Super Mario Maker as a small slice of Mario’s history.
Admittedly, I’m not proficient nor productive when referring to the creative aspect of gaming; the sheer act of creating a level of my own is extraordinarily daunting and my ability, or lack of for that matter, to conjure up a world of imagination and intricacy is extremely limited due to the complex nature of the given tools and my inept ability to comprehend them. This statement proves factual when simmering on the two creation titles that’ve eaten up most of my time: the profound LittleBigPlanet series and Sony’s quirky, yet adorable Modnation Racers. With Sony’s “Play, Create, Share” line-up, I found myself completely immersed in the pre-packaged, developer created works, which served as the appetizer for the main course which was the eventual, community generated wonders of art. I, myself, was more of an admirer than a creator. Despite LittleBigPlant’s adorable and simplistic demeanor, it presented an extremely complex, yet extraordinarily deep level creation tool. Modnation Racers had an extremely useful auto-populate function which literally populated your track with randomly generated scenery and NPC’s, while the track creator itself didn’t bear any special quality or idiosyncratic nature but was competent nonetheless. Super Mario Maker, on the other hand, is unquestionably the best level creation experience that is both intuitive and rewarding, with its accessibility becoming its greatest factor, outshining its competition effortlessly. What started out as a mere sequel to Mario Paint for the SNES has grown and evolved into something more ambitious and imaginative, arguably delivering one of the greatest and most original Mario experiences to date. Right off the bat, you’ll be instructed with applying the finishing touches to an unfinished level, which all takes the form of the game’s ingenious, albeit brief, tutorial. No other game utilizes the Wii U’s Gamepad in a manner similar to Super Mario Maker. I can quite honestly say that Super Mario Maker wouldn’t be a functional experience without the Gamepad. Using the Gamepad’s stylus, you simply drop and drag selected items into your level, similarly to the ubiquitous nature of your traditional pen and paper. With all the countless endeavours that are made possible through the Wii U’s gamepad, a level creator this accessible and intuitive would not be possible through the means of a traditional controller. Certain objects, when shaken, will have both their appearance and function altered accordingly, adding another layer of variance to the possibilities that Mario Maker possesses. Shaking the malevolent Bowser, for instance, will transform him into his mischievous son, Bowser Jr, who’ll approach and attack Mario in a manner that is different to his father. Green Koopa Troopers will mindlessly walk in their appointed direction, falling off countless ledges, ultimately resulting in their agonising doom. Shake one of them up and they transform into their red counterpart, continuously pacing from corner to corner in safety, learning from their green counterpart’s naivety. Your creation can aesthetically mirror one of four distinct visual styles ripped straight from Mario’s very own legacy; Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros U are at your disposal and visual styles amount to more than just a new shiny coat of paint as the core gameplay is slightly altered based on the style of your choice. Wall-jumping is only made available through the NSMBU style, while the Super Leaf and Cape Leaf, from Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World respectively, give Mario the ability of flight for a limited amount of time. Certain power-ups and items are exclusive to certain visual styles as well; for instance, the Yoshi egg is only available for the Super Mario World and NSMBU style, while the shoe Goomba (both its normal and stiletto variance) is only available through the Super Mario Bros 1 & 3 visual style. The visual style exclusivity may seem restrictive at a first glance but it allows for a copious amount of experimentation as you’re more inclined to try out different styles and discover new combinations as each style offers something new. Levels can also take on one of six iconic themes that are conspicuously correlated to the Super Mario series; whether you prefer the complex and challenging nature of traditional castle levels or the tranquility of underwater stages, you’ll always have the necessary tools to create your very own work of art. The level of customization is astounding as your limitations are extremely minute, allowing you to possibly build the Mario level of your dreams. Do you want to up the ante immensely and distort the very structure of a typical Goomba? Place a Super Mushroom onto your minuscule, rancorous friend and watch as it grows into the gargantuan beast it was meant to be. Want to perplex the player’s traditional thoughts on the Mario formula? Place a conniving Hammer Bros into the iconic question block and watch as the very nature of one’s perception on the Super Mario series flip inside out. Do you wish to create an indestructible, colossal tower consisting of nothing more than the hard workmanship of ten Giant Koopa Troopers? Then start building away as nothing will stop ever you except for you yourself. It’s an outrageous experience that’s ingeniously imaginative, traditionally destructive, and simply delightful.
Now not every creation tool is made available right off the bat, based on the frequent usage of its level creator, Super Mario Maker will eventually roll out new tools for your imaginative repertoire each day for nine days. Each of those days entail a new discovery, a little slice of wonder consecutively released to whet your appetite and to essentially familiarize yourself with your available tools until you’re next unlock date, so that you’ve become a master creator by the end of the nine days. What would seem to be a tiresome or even monotonous implementation proved to be exceptionally engaging as the sheer thrill of unlocking new tools each day ultimately kept me coming back for more, in a similar vein of receiving a shiny new present each and every morning. Hidden secrets and pathways can also play an integral role in level design if you’re anything like me, as I wanted to implement multiple paths, with each of them presenting a different method towards level completion, similar to the non-linearity and exploration of Super Metroid. Hidden Blocks, for instance, could be found at the start of my level, leading to a secret pathway up above in the clouds so that you could complete the level effortlessly, as opposed to the imminent chaos that would’ve ensued if you’d approached the level traditionally. Or perhaps a secret door will allow you to reach the end of the level prematurely, but it’s barricaded with Rotating Blocks, which would require the Super Cape to pass through them and access the secret door. The possibilities are indefinite and the only limitation to be found is your imagination itself. Luckily editing and testing the ins and outs of your creation is a seamless experience, with Super Mario Maker even implementing an extremely useful Mario tracking system which tracks Mario’s movement when testing and outlays a visual representation of that very movement when editing, aiding in the determination of the efficient placement of certain objects for the most optimal experience. However, given Super Mario Maker’s infancy and the sheer fact that it’s Nintendo’s first colossal step onto the creation realm of gaming, there are a few notable disappointments and discrepancies that need mentioning, which will hopefully be addressed in future iterations or through possible DLC. First off, certain items, enemies, and themes are conspicuously absent; for example, the inability to use Super Mario World’s Key and Keyhole to create secret exits was an unfortunate omission for someone like myself who wanted to replicate its respective and rewarding sense of exploration and discovery. Iconic Mario antagonistic creatures such as Chargin’ Chuck, the adorably dangerous Rex, the mouth-brooding Big Bertha, and any mischievous Koopaling whatsoever are nowhere to be found in that spacious tool box of yours. Lastly, a copious amount of beloved Super Mario themes (Dark, Ice, Desert, and Fire to name a few) are shamefully omitted and unfortunately hinders the creative value of your personal creation, a factor that should never be present in any creation experience. Super Mario Maker also does not support the ability to place checkpoints within your levels. Whether your level’s difficulty is that of the docile variety or boasts an unrelenting sense of challenge, players will have to complete your creation in one go, no ifs ands or buts. With the exemption of Super Mario Bros 3, the Super Mario series has seldom catered to a no checkpoint policy so its exclusion is questionable at best and inexcusable at worst. It’s a frustrating and questionable design choice and its omission ultimately leaves us creators at a disadvantage as we must work around the design flaw and comprise a myriad of alternatives to create our initial, fruitful experience. Whether this final fact be deemed as a positive or negative factor is a matter of perspective; besides its initial teachings, Super Mario Maker doesn’t possess an intuitive tutorial. Granted, the tools are extremely accessible and any further functions are arguably left to the player’s own curiosity to discover. For instance, I had absolutely no idea how to create warp pipes, I had seen them used correctly in a vast number of user created levels, but all I could do was stuff enemies down their elongated shaft in the traditional manner. If I hadn’t accidentally dropped Mario into the pipe, I wouldn’t have realized the key to enabling its warp function, which finally enabled me to create the proper, elongated level that I wished to make from the start. Some people might perceive this as a frustration, while others may look at this as one of the many wonderful new discoveries waiting to be found in Super Mario Maker, it’s really a matter of perception. However, despite my qualms with its implementations and given Super Mario Maker’s infancy, its disappointments are more than understandable and are insignificant in comparison to its astounding accomplishments, never deterring from what is easily the greatest creation experience that is currently available.
The sheer fun of making levels evokes an unparalleled sense of wonder and addiction, and easily outshines the interactive addition of playing pre-made and user created levels. To start things off appropriately, I’d recommend taking a trip down memory lane and embark on Nintendo’s 10 Mario Challenge, where you’re simply given 10 lives to complete a myriad of sample courses. These sample courses range from the extremely familiar to imaginative takes on the traditional formula, serving as the potential guideline for your own creative repertoire. Overall, they’re admittedly fun and an entertaining experience to say the least, but understand that they only represent a small fragment as to what’s truly possible through Super Mario Maker. The 100 Mario Challenge is a great way to experience the superb work of the Mario community, as you’re given a whopping 100 lives to complete up to 16 user created levels in what serves to be an extremely entertaining mini-campaign of sorts. The core Challenge is extremely accessible and is a fantastic gateway for the thousands of ingenious user created works of art that idly float across the hemisphere of Super Mario Maker. Each and every single level you stumble upon can also be dissected if you wish to understand the ins and outs of its creators mind, sneakily taking notes for your own repertoire. Upon completion, players will be rewarded with a costume that allows Mario to take the form of one of Nintendo’s many greats. Upon placing a Mystery Mushroom into a Super Mario Bros themed level, Mario will transform into Costume Mario, taking the form of perhaps Link, Samus, Donkey Kong, Bowser, Kirby, or any other iconic character that is at your disposal. However, you only unlock one costume at random when completing the 100 Mario Challenge, and with about 100 costumes to unlock, the elongated conquest to unlock them all will be an arduous one. Granted if you own certain Amiibo, you can scan them using the Wii U Gamepad and an 8-bit version of that respective character will be unlocked in the level editor; yes this method will cost you a pretty penny by the end of it but it’ll also alleviate the pain of your arduous journey immensely. Uploading levels onto the Course World is a rather painless experience, all that Super Mario Maker requires of you is to complete the level yourself which is a fair prerequisite. Players are only allowed to upload up to ten levels right off the bat, with further uploading abilities earned by receiving stars for your respective levels. It’s an interesting filtration system that promotes a quality standard for the content simmering throughout the Course World, but it’s also an unfortunate limitation for some creators who’ll have to pick favourites and replace some of their imaginative creations. Speaking of filtering, searching for specific works in the Course World is not a convenient task and surprisingly portrays an archaic implementation that should be rectified immediately. It’s not possible to search for levels created by those on your Wii U friends list, instead you’ll have to obtain their level’s respective Course ID, and only then can you begin to follow them as creators. There’s also no easy method of filtration, allowing you to play the levels you truly yearn for; what if you only wanted to play levels utilizing the Super Mario Bros. 3 style, or filter out all of the auto-scroll nightmares, or only experience top quality levels with ten or more stars? Unfortunately, at this point in time, you cannot do so. Regardless of negative connotations however, Super Mario Maker is still a masterful experience that celebrates the creativity of its users. Even though the concept and execution of creating levels prove more entertaining that its traditional counterpart, playing levels is still an absolute delight, and if you’re similar to me, then you’ll take the more egotistical approach and spend countless hours playing your own levels in astonishment that you could ever create something this wonderful.
Super Mario Maker is undoubtedly the best creation game I have ever played, with its accessible and intuitive approach besting any competition whatsoever. Not only is Super Mario Maker one of the best games of 2015 and arguably the best game on the Wii U, it also justified the very existence of the Wii U’s Gamepad which had struggled to find a purpose for three long years. Despite certain hiccups due to its infancy, Super Mario Maker is an excellent, well balanced experience like no other; regardless of your preference between creating or playing, and your experience with the Super Mario series as a whole, there is something enjoyable here for everyone as Super Mario Maker is pure, unadulterated fun. Truth be told, I actually wasn’t expecting too much from Super Mario Maker. As I had previously mentioned, level creation has never really interested me as it was never my forte to begin with, so I perceived Super Mario Maker as just another level creation tool. Super Mario Maker is easily the biggest surprise of 2015 for me as it has become a near masterpiece in my eyes, an immense altercation in perspective for something that I had initially swept under the rug. With an extremely fluid and user-friendly creation template, and that impeccably precise, responsiveness derived from Mario’s platforming, Super Mario Maker, quite literally, plays like a dream. For Mario’s thirtieth birthday, Nintendo have given us a phenomenal gift that transcends most gaming experiences to date, giving us a Mario experience that arguably lasts forever. Whether Nintendo designed Super Mario Maker to be a one-time experiment or a future platform for their renowned repertoire remains to be seen, but suffice it to say, you won’t find me complaining if Nintendo were to release a Super Mario 3D Maker one day.